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Saturday, March 22, 2003
8:16 AM      

"It's just like out of an action movie, but this is real." - NBC News' Peter Arnett

Four CNN staffers constituting the last staff members of a U.S.-based TV network left in Baghdad were ordered out of the country Friday by Iraqi authorities.

The timing was particularly bad for CNN, leaving the cable news network without correspondents Nic Robertson and Rym Brahimi just before the city was battered with bombs that made for gripping television pictures. ... [awww - goodbye ratings bonanza!]

A few hours after the CNN journalists were ordered out, the network hired freelancer May Ying Welsh. She described some of the fear that Engel - and most others in Baghdad - must have been feeling when the bombs were falling.

"You hear it and it sounds like it's coming toward you," Welsh said. "It shrieks as it goes by. Right now I'm sure the people of this city are huddling in their homes and hoping and praying that this bombing is going to end soon."

As we start to receive the first reports of US casualties, I notice how we only hear reports of how many Iraqui soldiers have surrendered. It's as if there were no people in those demolished buildings. Makes me think of how shortly after September 11, 2001, Bush stood on the ruins of ground zero and said "The people who knocked these buildings down are going to hear from us..." He didn't acknowledge the people who'd lost their lives then, he referred to the property damage. Now, we're damaging Iraq's property.

Yesterday, I thought about my cousin Melvin's funeral. He died in Vietnam, trying to save another soldier who had fallen into a river. They found his body a day or so later, several miles downstream. The Marines dressed his body in an impeccable uniform and sent his flag-draped coffin home with a color guard escort.

I remember seeing the escorting soldier standing at perfect attention next to Melvin's coffin for the wake. After the funeral, he was around for another day or so. My cousins and I played football in the street with him. He looked like a completely different person out of his uniform -- more human and less menacing. Instead of the sharply defined marine hat, he wore a tight fitting doo-rag.

My grandmother kept the picture of Melvin in his Marines uniform up on the wall of her house for the rest of her life. Now, hearing of US and British soldiers dying over there, I think of all those flag-draped coffins and color guard soldiers escorting their bodies home.

Public outcry helped end our involvement in the Vietnam war. Perhaps it will ultimately exert pressure upon this administration. The returning soldiers were despised -- they were considered agents of the government, which we had lost faith in. Somehow, even though it's pretty clear that the real reasons for this conflict are not being discussed (or the reasons given are the real reasons, and they're pretty baseless), we're expected to give over full support to this effort and stop questioning what's going on. Somehow, a modicum of confidence in what this government is doing remains somewhere. And fortunately, we seem better able to see the soldiers as people doing their job who were simply put in harm's way.

As North Korea apparently prepares for war, I wonder what the next chapter holds. Will history show that G.W. Bush was a brilliant visionary, who dramatically reduced the threat of terrorism in the world and restored the American economy? Or will he be seen as a feeble, secretive puppet whose blunders plunged this nation into its worst state in decades, destroyed alliances all over the world, triggered at least two wars, and dramatically destabilized the Middle East and several other parts of the world?

Let's not forget that this was the president who campaigned purely on domestic policy, and dismissed foreign policy as something his smart subordinates could take care of. And while foreign affairs seem to soak up most of the bandwidth, insidious changes are happening on the home front. It's like the magician's sleight of hand trick - you're distracted by the left hand or the brightly colored prop long enough to keep you from seeing what the right hand is doing.

[ link | e-me ]

8:35 AM      

"Yes, I think he's really in Baghdad. And so far, he's still alive and well."
I just read a piece about blogger "Salam Pax" [the Arabic and Latin words for "peace"]. Apparently, he's blogging from inside Baghdad. At the time of this posting, his last entry was yesterday. Blogger Paul Boutin described his efforts to verify that the guy is for real. Both of these make interesting reads. I've just skimmed the Salam Pax site. I'm disappointed that the images he's posted are broken right now, but the text is powerful.

[ link | e-me ]

Friday, March 21, 2003
11:00 AM      

Happy Spring!


I had a bunch of good stuff to post earlier, but I lost it, so I'm starting over...


I really like the Flash MX debugger. It takes a little effort to get familiar with it, but once you get it, it's very powerful, and very comprehensive. I'll be using trace() statements a lot less.


I just realized that Earthlink has an AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) feature, which means I can probably use iChat after all. Thing is, I haven't been able to figure out how to get a screen name without signing up for AOL. The documentation on Earthlink's site is murky at best. Some of the support links are dead. I tried using the online chat application, and it looks like I got dropped. I think I'll use the good ol' fashion phone...

While I was poking around the Earthlink site, I came across this:

Q: After installing MSN Instant Messenger, Instant Messenger no longer starts up automatically when I turn on my computer. What is causing this? (Windows Only)
A: The Microsoft Network (MSN) Instant Messenger installer has turned off your Instant Message option to start automatically when you turn on your computer. To turn this feature back on, go into General preferences in Instant Messenger and enable the Start Instant Messenger when Windows starts option.

Mischeivous little buggers. At least they didn't have the temerity to delete the competitor's application.


As the anti-war protesting goes on, it becomes clear that we can support the troops in what they're ordered to do, and still be against the aggression itself. Remember, it's "a new kind of war." That means the old rhetoric of "shut up and rally 'round the flag" is old-school.

In further support of the notion that we're witnessing the world's first Corporate War, the stock market was expected to respond positively at the opening this morning. I overheard a man in a coffee shop yesterday, worrying about his investments in a certain company. He said he was getting conflicting information about whether the company would be able to keep the title to the land they own in Iraq after the regime change.


Hello, affirmative action:
An article summarizing recent census data had this to report:

On average, a white man with a college diploma earned about $65,000 in 2001. Similarly educated white women made about 40 percent less, while black and Hispanic men earned 30 percent less, according to Census Bureau estimates being released Friday. ...

"There's a wedge between minority education gains and the payoff, and that's discrimination and the kinds of job opportunities available," said Jared Bernstein, an economist with the Economic Policy Institute, a labor-supported think tank. ...

Differences in income were slightly lower on other educational levels between white men and minorities. For instance, black men who are high school graduates earned about 25 percent less than comparably educated whites, and black men who held master's degrees earned 20 percent less than their white counterparts.

Looking back a decade, income gaps have edged up between whites and minorities. Historical data was not available for Asians. ...

Whites, regardless of gender, remain more likely to be better educated than blacks and Hispanics. More than 29 percent of whites are college graduates, compared with 17 percent of blacks and about 11 percent of Hispanics, all record highs. ...

[ link | e-me ]

Thursday, March 20, 2003
9:54 AM      

I woke up to this today - not entirely surprised.

I figured the announcement might have been timed to play on prime time, instead of launching last night. But, it did make it in time for the 11:00 news... Course, I'd turned off the TV by 9pm anyway. Don't think I'd have lost any sleep, but it's better this way.

But wait, what's this: Fox announces that Monica Lewinsky will have her own reality TV show on the day that war breaks out in Iraq, and it's considered "Top News" -- what timing! The missile that brought down Clinton gets trotted out on the day that Tomahawks rain down on Baghdad. How poetic.

From the NY Times:
"WASHINGTON, March 19 — As he sat behind his desk in the Oval Office just before he addressed the nation tonight at 10:15, President Bush picked up a copy of the speech in which he would tell the world that he had launched military strikes to topple Saddam Hussein. He gave a little shake of his fist, according to a person who saw the scene on a television monitor, turned to someone in the room and said, 'Feel good.' ..."

An unscientific survey of the headlines around town and around the world...

American hystrionics were not surprising. You could sense the bloodlust in articles that pointed out attempts to kill Saddam with long-range bombs. Apparently, they thought Hussein and all of his key people had gathered in one place...

CNN's site even features a handy War Zone with an interactive tracker - ooh!...


Meanwhile, the coverage in the UK (our biggest ally?) was more sedate and reflective...


Hey, Tony, you don't look so good... Funny, how I have to read a UK paper to find out that my neighbors are sad that this is happening... Oh, and don't forget, you can still buy that domain name at a bargain price!...

You might notice that there seem to be a lot less of the sensational images pushed on us in the US coverage. Heck, the BBC site even links to a leftist paper!

And the London Times still has Sunday's edition up.


And in France:

"The war has begun", the headline reads.

A translation of the dek: "Thursday March 20, the United States carried out the first limited operations in Iraq with the firing of missiles on Baghdad, perhaps aiming at Saddam Hussein, but without starting the flood of bombardments generally expected nor an immediate land offensive. Towards 6:30, Saddam Hussein, speaking on television, said Iraq was committed to "resisting to the invaders". Six Iraqi Scud missiles may have hit Kuwait."

From the BBC: "War Draws Condemnation"


Major Carnage -- brought to you by...

I know - How about the Budweiser "Scud Bowl"? Budweiser Patriot Missiles shoot down Scud missiles. (To be aired during breaks between continuous coverage of the same footage on all major networks.)You could even turn it into a kid-friendly interactive game...

By the way, you'll be happy to know that oil prices are already down.

I think this speaks for itself. Just remember when it's time to cast your vote, and don't "forget" to vote!

Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Connecticut, who has been one of Bush's staunchest Democratic supporters of a war on Iraq, said the strike "is a task of high justice and necessity."

"What we are doing here is not only in the interest and the safety of the American people," Lieberman told CNN, "but what we are doing here in overthrowing Saddam and removing those weapons of mass destruction, taking them into our control, is good for the entire world. It is not a selfish task."

Lieberman, also a presidential hopeful, described Saddam as an "evil dictator" who will hurt many Americans if given the chance.


What now? An interesting article in the Boston Globe talks about how religious leaders, who have largely been opposed to war, are having to shift gears from resisting the threat of war to dealing with its reality:

One sign of the shift came in a letter Tuesday from the Episcopal bishops of Massachusetts, who have been vociferously opposed to war, to all Episcopal clergy.
''As your bishops, we continue in our belief that this war is not a just war,'' the bishops wrote. ''Our work for peace will continue in many ways, but we want to go forward as a community in dialogue, one in which our differing perspectives will be honored. Our first concern now is for those in immediate danger.''

Lest we forget, Iraq isn't the only place with troubles:

Rachel Corrie's Last E-mail (Rachel is the American peace activist who was run over by an Israeli bulldozer.)

[ link | e-me ]

Wednesday, March 19, 2003
11:57 AM      

From the front lines? Denise linked me to the blog of a journalist in Northern Iraq last night. A small taste:

I asked Fred [Francis] when he this war would start. We have all given into its inevitability weeks ago. Be ready shortly after the President speaks, he told me. President Bush speaks tonight. There will be an ultimatum, we are told. Reporters here whisper in the corridors, afraid of losing a competitive edge. They fill their four wheel drives with petrol and pack them with bottled water. The days of feature stories are numbered. The only question: toward the fires or toward the glory. Or perhaps something worse.

The blog indicates that reporters over there have been clear for weeks that war was coming. I had that feeling, when the troops and munitions started moving, but newsies are a bit more connected. A couple of weeks ago, I made a business call to someone at NBC who said "I'm really swamped. We're going to war, and I really can't deal with that right now." It was definite. There was no speculation. It was only a matter of when.

It occurs to me that the press rarely changes the outcome of things. Generally, they only sense the tide, and either promote it, or ignore it. I think airing footage of the devastation of the Vietnam war changed public opinion, and helped bring an end to our involvement over there. Woodward and Bernstien's brilliant work and incredible luck exposed the slimy underside of the White House, and brought Nixon down. But Washington's learned new tricks, and the press, which now serves the same master as the White House, would rather play cheerleader than watchdog; but I digress.

It'll be interesting to see what journalist Kevin manages to post once the shooting starts... He seems to be compelled to head in the direction of harm's way. In the build-up to this thing, I've thought back more than once to the last Gulf War, and remembered more than once the reporter once known as the "Scud Stud." The image that stands out most strongly is seeing him on the roof of a hotel wearing a leather jacket, the sound of air raid sirens all over the audio track. You could see the tracks of tracer rounds moving up into the air, and a lot of unrecognizable shapes in the background. Then, there was the sound of machine gun fire -- the reporter and his crew might be under fire. I think there was a loud explosion. The reporter was pale, slack-jawed, visibly shaken; but he kept on reporting.

Responding to a "where are they now" impulse, I did a Google search for "Scud Stud" and quickly located a reference to the very same Mr. Arthur Kent on It's just a tease (you have to pay orjump through some hoops to read the whole thing), but even the tease offers some juicy bits:

...[Kent] fears "dark forces" will unleash a conflict that will kill and maim thousands of innocent civilians, give rise to virulent anti-Americanism and anti-Westernism and plunge the world into strife for years to come. ...

So, who are these "dark forces?" Our leaders. Kent harbors no love for Saddam Hussein... But the 49-year-old journalist fears that the Bush administration's heavy-handed foreign policy toward Iraq will have devastating and long-lasting repercussions... "I think the Bush administration proceeds at its own peril." ...

The thing that annoys me the most about this whole process, is how successful Big Bushness [sic] has been at painting anyone who questions what these folks are doing as unpatriotic. They manage to say it's OK to disagree with them [of course they'll do their best to supress your expression of that disagreement] while insinuating that all the true patriots are on their side. True patriots need to suppress discourse. True patriots need to rush into war. True patriots need to script press conferences. True patriots need to increase secrecy around the president's proceedings while decreasing their own privacy. True patriots don't want cogent explanations and accountability, they want jingoistic sound bites and comfort.


Yesterday, I looked at a chunk of Flash code that makes it easy to grab a movie clip and fling it across the stage. I played around with different friction coefficients to see how the "ballistics" could be adjusted. Penner's vector-based math is better, so I'd like to see if there's a way to combine the two - probably bundle it all into an object that can be procedurally "attached" to a movie clip. Using that approach, a user could toss a ball that bounces or deflects when it hits walls or other objects.

I also looked into another event model that Flash supports: Watches. You can tell Flash to watch a particular property of an object, and call a particular function or method whenever that property changes. What's the point? Specificity and efficiency. Less stuff to check in each onEnterFrame event, and cleaner code.

So, in the realm of custom event handling in Flash, I now have all these tools: Callbacks, Listeners, Watches, and Getter/Setter routines (see object.addProperty). That adds up to a lot of ways to make useful event-driven systems.

I took a step deeper into PHP last night. Discovered that the name refers to a bunch of "Personal Home Page" server scripts that the original developer created several years ago. I'm reading up on how you can use a Flash loadVars object to communicate with PHP scripts. This is getting real good...

[ link | e-me ]

6:27 PM      

Just read a fascinating synopsis of the book Risk & Redemption: Surviving the Network News Wars. It's about what happened to Arthur Kent at NBC, and how he fought back and won. NBC doesn't look prettty at all in this.

Essentially, Kent began to needle NBC brass about why his stories were getting killed. Their response was to send him and his team to Bosnia (where 27 journalists had been killed the year before) with no helmets, no bullet-proof vests, and no translators, guides or first-aid gear.

The article's conclusion is very telling: "...The final question that Kent, and everyone involved in producing the news, must ask is why this situation arose in the first place. How much of a demand was there for sensationalism? Did shows like Inside Edition rate highly when they went with their tabloid sleaze? If this is indeed the case, then there exists a larger problem with television and it has less to do with the people who make television than with the people who watch it."


I had an interesting conversation with a friend this afternoon. We talked about how the protests around this country are being completely ignored by our "leadership". I said that it's pretty obvious that no matter how strenuously we protest, there will be no change in direction at the White House. If that's so, I said, it seems that the only reason to publicly protest (albeit a very good reason in my book) is to maintain a degree of personal integrity -- making it clear that we're not simply acquiescing to what's going on. My friend suggested another context: As Bush strives so hard to showcase US superpower status, protests make it clear to the rest of the world that its citizens are not 100% in lock-step with his zealotry. In a world where anti-American sentiment is likely to increase dramatically, such public demonstrations might make a difference in the eyes of the rest of the world. That depends, of course, on how much the foreign press is willing to cover the story. I believe they are less infatuated with tabloid sleaze, and might find an interesting story in public dissent.

[ link | e-me ]

Tuesday, March 18, 2003
12:33 AM      

Wow. I did a little searching around tonight and found a different source for PHP 4.3. Followed the steps on the site, copying and pasting the commands from the web page into my terminal window, and had an upgraded PHP installed in minutes. Unix is definitely a different environment, but I'm starting to get really stoked about its power.


I watched in disgust as Florida and the Supreme Court went down, now, I'm watching this whole Iraq mess go down. I figure the shooting will start by Saturday. It doesn't matter that people all over the world and all over the US are against this.

Unfortunately, we're all going to be tarred with the same brush. People will not forget what the US has done... I suspect that after the shooting stops (more like dies down — this is likely to go on for years), they'll do some kind of spin control around whatever they do or don't find. It'll be like the hunt for Osama bin Laden all over again. No matter what, the operation will be a success. And even if they find no real WMD or nukes, they'll find a way to justify what's been done. It's like the Rodney King defense: he could have stopped the ass-whipping any time, just by lying still.

[ link | e-me ]

5:42 PM      

This sounds good -- sent to me by my friend Tom Paul:

Date: Tue, 18 Mar 2003 22:27:47 +0000
Subject: F-Train at 55 Bar - Friday night $5

There's not much more to say other than the pocket will be deep and music is gonna be groovin' hard.$5 to hear this caliber of musicianship should not even be a question, just GO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Hey everyone,
    It's this Friday night and if you're looking to get out and get funky come on down and hang with F-Train!!!

Friday, March 21st
The 55 Bar
55 Christopher Street
(just off 7th Ave. towards 6th Ave.)
NYC, New York(Take the 1,9 to Christopher St,
or the A,C,E,F,B,D to West 4th.)
Only $5 cover!

kenny rampton on trumpet...
   donny mcCaslin on tenor sax...
clark gayton on trombone...
   dred scott on keyboards...
robin macatangay on guitar...
   jesse murphy on bass...
tony mason on drums...

[ link | e-me ]

Monday, March 17, 2003
10:02 AM      

Just call me "ArtGeek." This weekend was spent skulking around for art, seeing a movie and a play, and setting up PHP, MySQL, and Apache on my Mac. Then I generated my first dynamic page from my own built-in web server and database, using Dreamweaver. Woo-hoo!

The movie: "Irreversible." Call it "Memento" meets "In the Bedroom." There is some clever stuff going on in this movie, but it's hard to take, maybe harder to take than "Monster's Ball." Big points for cinematograpy. The storytelling is unconventional. Lots of hand-held shots and long takes. I've done a lot of thinking about this... maybe I'll post more later.

The play: "A Day in the Death of Joe Egg." Denise surprised me with tickets because she knows how much I like Eddie Izzard. The play is about a husband and wife struggling to cope with raising a severely crippled child. It's done with incredible humor and pathos. The performers break the fourth wall a lot. There are several unconventional techniques in this performance, too ? almost a play within a play that we get to watch, as if we're in a chat with the main characters.

Earlier in the week, we saw another play, "Life (x) 3" with John Turturro and Helen Hunt. Brent Spiner is in it too, with Linda Edmond. Like "Copenhagen", the play repeats a central event three times, but "Life" takes a different approach, spinning off three distinctly different dynamics. I don't think the piece worked completely, but it was interesting.

I'm noticing that a lot of writers - film or stage - seem to be playing around with story structure, perhaps more than ever. More and more, it seems that perhaps the same stories have been told to death; I guess the next thing to do is make the presentation of the story more novel. Of course, our most popular stories are all based on Western notions of drama. As movies like "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and Anime become popular fare in this country, it will be interesting to see if Eastern approaches to drama will become more mainstream. Also, if you look at Spanish film, elements of the mystical are often introduced as commonplace. I think these influences are beginning to arise in movies like "The Sixth Sense" and "Dragonfly."


It's always a buzz when I get something working with code. This weekend, it was a bit of the database administration thing, too. It's hands-on instant gratification. Getting applications working and maintaining hardware aren't as gratifying to me as writing routines and playing with interfaces, but it's growing on me with each technical success.

Firing up the Unix terminal was intriguing. I was really diving under the hood of my Mac... it wasn't long before I had switched on Apache, verified my PHP version, fired up MySQL, and defined a database table.

There were several places along the way where I had to diverge from the script that I was working from, but I think that's a good thing. It drove home the concepts rather than the steps ? which invariably change.

After futzing around a bit with the site definition in Dreamweaver (had to re-read that section several times...), I finally built a page that dynamically populated a table and served it to my browser.

Of course, I 've always had a remote host with MySQL, PHP and Apache, but having everything right in my own desktop box offers me flexibility and speed that I don't have when dealing with FTP.

Next steps... expanding my SQL/PHP savvy, and using PHP to drive dynamic Flash content... (Yeah, buddy!)

[ link | e-me ]
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